“I remember boasting about my 13-step beauty regime. A decade of that was literally cosmetic confusion. I was like, ‘What do I do? Do I tone? Do I put on an oil? Or do I put on my vitamin C first? And what about my retinol? And my AHAs?’ I would end up with rosacea, irritation… And then there was all the waste. I was looking for efficiency and I just wanted the confusion to stop.”
In a Zoom call from her Texas home, a make-up free Tina Craig, the veteran fashion and beauty blogger, echoes the frustration of every skincare user. Her distractingly glassy skin however, is evidence that her own skincare confusion has most definitely stopped. This is down to The Resurfacing Compound, the single product launch from her new skincare brand, U Beauty. In recent years, multiple product launches from brands have become the industry standard while an extensive 10, 12 and even 15-step evening skincare ritual has traditionally been fawned over and emulated. But that might be about to change. Say hello to a refreshing coterie of brands paving the way for a more minimalist and considered approach to beauty.
Craig’s Resurfacing Compound is the result of a two year journey that consisted of one introduction to an Italian medical grade lab, 100 human testers that included the good and the great in the fashion and beauty world – “all ages, sexes, ethnicities,” asserts Craig – and nine rounds of product iterations (“it infuriated the scientist!” she laughs.) This much-lauded serum – housed in a fully recyclable bottle – not only combines antioxidants, retinol, glycolic and lactic acids to cut multi-product beauty regimes in half, but it also uses a patented technology that focuses solely on treating damaged skin cells so your skin barrier is never compromised. As Craig describes the day she trialled the lab sample, her eyes light up in awe. “The smoothness and resurfacing… I attended fashion week a few days later, and everyone was like, ‘Your skin is next level, what are you using?’” When The Compound launched in the US in November 2019, it sold out within 48 hours. Days later it sold out globally.
A successful influencer driven brand is, of course, not uncommon. But launching a single standalone product, one that repeatedly sells out in hours, creates a bottomless waiting list and enables the founder to build an entire brand around it? That’s a talking point. In 2018, beauty bloggers Lauren Gores Ireland and Marianne Hewitt launched Summer Fridays, a clean, “insta-ready”, results-driven skincare brand. It was at the height of beauty influencer brand launches, and so the market was more or less saturated. The brand, however, managed to cut through the din with a single launch: the Jet Lag Mask.
In their day jobs, the duo had become overwhelmed by the number of extensive product lines not just on the market but also on their own bathroom shelves. This, explains Hewitt, was the catalyst behind their streamlined approach. “There were so many options that you didn’t know what to try first. We knew that if we felt that way, then consumers did too. So we wanted a really concentrated launch.” Their strategy paid off. On launch, the Jet Lag Mask sold out multiple times. Two years on, despite the brand expanding its product range to a still relatively tight roster of six products, the mask – an antioxidant and ceramide-rich treatment for parched, stressed out skins – remains the hero.
Beauty products driven by a singular vision aren’t limited to skincare. Like Craig, Hewitt and Gores Ireland, Loretta De Feo’s decision to launch her hair care brand Dizziak with one product – a deep conditioner – was stirred by her dissatisfaction at what the hair care market offered textured hair. “I wanted to launch with a conditioner because it was the one product that always let me down. I found conditioners either too weak or too heavy for my hair. Growing up, I must have bought every single product because I was duped by snazzy descriptions and claims. That’s why the Dizziak branding is so succinct. I didn’t want any fluff and BS on there. I just wanted to make healthy products that worked.”
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Augustinus Bader, a world leading stem cell expert also took his cue from this minimalist, efficacy-first approach – but hard science was at its core. In 2019, he launched The Cream, a revolutionary, age-defying moisturiser that harnesses stem cell technology to repair and regenerate skin. The formula has garnered a huge influential following that includes Hollywood A-Listers, fashion designers and beauty’s top facialists and buyers. Banking on the success of a single product was a risky move for a no frills research scientist without industry, celebrity or influencer connections, but Bader sees himself as a beauty outsider so the aforementioned considerations were irrelevant. It was all about the product and if that meant a single product, so be it. “We [Bader and business partner Charles Rosier] believe in quality over quantity. We are not traditional beauty developers so our focus has always been on the science and the efficacy of our products.”
This anti maximalist approach to beauty could spell the death knell for the double digit skincare regime as well as brands that have capitalised on the multi-step ritual. This step change however, argues Lisa Payne, senior beauty editor at trend forecasting agency Stylus, is a positive one. “The trend for single product brands and launches plays into a wider trend of slow beauty. With concerns about the environment and the trend towards minimalism, many consumers are seeking a “less is more” approach to beauty. The “more is more” mantra doesn’t work for a growing contingent of time-poor minimalist-minded consumers who seek out smaller yet harder working curated edits, do-it all multi-hyphenate formulas and single product brands. Why? Because there is real value in cutting out the guesswork.” Alexia Inge, founder of online beauty retailer Cult Beauty, agrees saying “The 12-step Korean regimens which reached peak popularity in 2019 feel incongruous with today’s consumer focus on minimising the impact on the environment. Building a brand simply on a cycle of new products just doesn’t resonate as it used to.”
Back in 2014 when April Gargiulo launched Vintner’s Daughter with the Active Botanical Serum, little did she realise just how ahead of the curve she was. Made up of 22 active oils, botanics and extracts, the supercharged oil tones, repairs, brightens and targets signs of skin ageing. And each bottle takes 21 days to make, hence the three figure price tag which has, by no means, not stopped it from being a global bestseller, stocked in prestigious stores such as LA’s Violet Grey and London’s Liberty. In the early days, recalls Gargiulo, it was a hard sell. “When we launched, no one would take us seriously, especially retailers. They liked the product but they were like, ‘we don’t know what to do with a single product… call us back when you’ve got three or four.’ I would reply and tell them that my whole point is fewer but better. It’s not about throwing products at a wall to see what sticks. It was about creating a skincare routine that is minimal and effective – which I believe is better for your skin and better for the environment. So yes,” smiles Gargiulo, “it was an interesting time.”
Hindsight (seven years, to be exact) reveals that this earlier reticence around the single product launch is a thing of the past. Still, there were some furrowed brows when Wishful, the skincare brand by the Huda Beauty founder, Huda Kattan, launched earlier in the year with a single product opening gambit, Yo Glow, a gentle but powerful exfoliating scrub. “A lot of people thought it was strange that I was launching my skincare line with a single scrub, but the inspiration comes from our community and what they are asking for. We listen to them, we take their input and create products that we know they will love. Wishful is basically driven by the skin our followers wish for,” Kattan says.
Needless to say, a cult status product opens the door to consequent launches; Wishful have since released sheet masks and a cleansing balm, Dizziak now has a Hydration Wash, Augustinus Bader is adding a body oil, cleanser and a face oil to their repertoire and U Beauty has another innovative multitasker landing in the autumn. That said, don’t hold your breath for 30-strong product lines; a streamlined, efficiency driven strategy is at the core of this breed of beauty. Vintner’s Daughter unveiled their second product, Active Treatment Essence, seven years after their first launch. Already a bestseller, this complex, multi-correcting product, which aims to pare down skincare routines, is an indication of the consumer’s appetite for slow beauty, an ethos that rejects the relentless churn of traditional beauty drops and convoluted beauty regimes.
This considered mindset, predicts Stylus’ Payne, won’t be on the wane anytime soon. If anything, it’s the future. “As consumers of all ages strip back their approach to consumption – something that has been heightened even more by the Covid-19 pandemic – single product brands and multi-tasking products are going to thrive.” Which surely bodes well for Craig. But she admits her motivation was never really about being a successful brand founder. “I never thought about launching a beauty product. I came to this as a consumer in pursuit of healthy skin. I was just looking for the best product I couldn’t find.”